They had been married for 21 years and were the parents of four boys. Their marriage had had its ups and downs, but doesn't every marriage? From the outside looking in, the marriage looked pretty good.
Unbeknownst to friends and colleagues, the husband — I’ll call him Bob — had become a heavy drinker in recent years. He traveled a lot for work, and the wife — I’ll call her Sally — was not entirely sure of his faithfulness. Still, Bob was a good provider and she had been crazy about him since the day they’d met at a college mixer. His gentle way calmed her hyperactivity. Her extroversion drew him out of his shell.
Over the years, the marriage quietly unraveled until conflict erupted on a blustery night in October. Awkward and uneasy at the dinner table, Bob finally cleared his throat, announced that he was leaving Sally and headed upstairs to pack. An hour later, he was gone.
Sally was stunned. He wasn’t serious, was he? Surely they could repair their problems. How could she manage? They had a mortgage and two kids in college.
A month later, Bob filed for divorce. Sally was a devout Catholic and wanted no part of divorce. She fought him about it and begged him to join her in marriage counseling, but Bob would not be dissuaded. A few months after he left, Bob moved in with his girlfriend. Bob and Sally’s youngest son started to act out in school. Creditors began calling.
The early months of the separation were a nightmare, as Sally grappled with her new reality. In a million years, she’d never pictured herself as a divorcee. She’d envisioned being married to the same man for 60 years. Instead, she was a 47-year-old woman with no husband and virtually no work experience.
About six months into the separation, Sally enrolled in a program for displaced women who were returning to the workforce. Many of the women were dealing with the same mix of anger, confusion and fear that blanketed Sally. Alongside these hurting women, Sally learned business skills and she began planning a future. After multiple internships, Sally settled into a job that she enjoyed. Her income was modest, but it covered the mortgage, if just barely.
Two years after the ordeal began, Sally officially became a divorced woman. She had a hard time saying the word.
Over the years, Sally had become friendly with numerous political and religious refugees. Most knew little about navigating American life. All were lonely and had minimal contact outside their immigrant communities. After the divorce, Sally poured herself into these people in need. She began lunchtime prayer with a Muslim woman. She assisted a Russian Jew in obtaining a driver’s license. She cared for the small daughter of a Syrian physician who was trying, unsuccessfully, to obtain a license to practice medicine in America. She housed a South American child and his mother who were in this country so he could undergo life-saving heart surgery.
Sunday dinner became Sally’s favorite time of the week. A typical gathering around her dining room table included a quirky assortment of lonely people who reveled in home-cooked food, lively discussion and the offer of friendship.
Many years later, after an annulment had been granted, Sally married a wonderful Catholic widower, and they enjoyed nearly 10 years together before his death. Sally later observed that becoming divorced was far more painful than becoming widowed. In the aftermath of each, however, Sally soothed her pain by reaching out to others.
M. Regina Cram is a writer, speaker and author. She and her husband live in Glastonbury and have four children and seven grandchildren.